Artist: Stanley Bermudez
Date of Action: August 2021
Region: North America
Location: Gainesville, Georgia (Gainesville State College)
Confronting Bodies: Campus administrators at Gainesville State College
Description of Artwork: The painting, titled "Heritage?" depicts a Confederate flag with four human figures superimposed upon the flag's color scheme. The leftmost and lowest figures are depictions of hooded Ku Klux Klan members members bearing torches. The uppermost figure is of a black woman standing at a window. The most prominent figure, occupying the right side of the work, is of a black man being lynched.
The Incident: Stanley Bermudez's painting "Heritage?" was removed from display on the Gainesville State College campus in response to community outrage regarding the painting's subject matter. Most parties who requested the removal were concerned with the negative and violent connotations that the artist attached to the Confederate flag. Critics of the artwork argued that the Confederate flag is not the property of the Ku Klux Klan, but that the group adopted the much broader symbol, one bearing positive meaning for many communities in the American south.
A panel was called at the artist’s request to discuss the instance of censorship.
Perry Charles Lunsford, representing the Heritage Preservation Association, the group that lodged the first complaints against the painting, called the work “shock art”.
The artist responded: “I was just expressing how I feel when I see that flag. I went to YouTube and I saw a video of KKK members with the flag and the American flag…and they had a sign that said ‘stop the Latino Invasion.’ How am I supposed to react to this? I am a Latino.”
Martha Nesbitt, president of Gainesville State College and the person responsible for removing the painting stated that it was the depiction of a lynching that led to her to remove the work, and that lynching “has been perceived as aggressively hostile in other areas of the contry and other academic institutions”.
Results of Incident: “Heritage?” was not re-hung at Gainesville State College. Following controversy and accusations that the work had been removed in violation of constitutional rights, Martha Nesbitt stated that student and faculty art would never again be subject to this kind of censorship.